While most American journalists covering the Turin Olympics get around on buses, sometimes the buses get stuck in congestion created by swarms of smaller cars. It can be difficult to tell whether you are on your way to the Media Center or in the middle of a Formula One race.
The first thing most Americans notice about the traffic in Italy is that the cars are much smaller than in the United States. Even though most of the brands are familiar, such as Fiat, Volkswagen, Toyota, Audi, BMW and Mercedes, the models on the road are totally different.
They look like they got shrunk in the wash. Maybe it is their smaller size, but the cars really seem to move faster here. With horns blaring and high-beam headlights flashing, they zip in and out of traffic with a reckless sense of abandon that can make non-Italian drivers cover their eyes in horror. Elisa Genna, who has lived in Turin since 1997, shared her opinion with VOA Sports.
"In the morning from seven A.M. to nine A.M., when they have to go to work, they drive in a very dangerous way sometimes, no? Even if the light is red, [they drive] as if it was normal [green]," said Elisa Genna. "In other times, as in the weekend, they drive in a normal way."
Even in the so-called normal times, accidents seem imminent at any moment. I have seen several near-misses, but so far, no accidents. But what I have seen are Fiats. Lots and lots of little Fiats with short names, and even shorter wheelbases. Punto, Panda, Stilo…these are just some of the nameplates I have been quick enough to read before the car zoomed out of sight.
There are practical reasons for the smaller cars in Turin. Elisabetta Catto told VOA the gas prices here are very high.
"One euro, 20 cents [per liter]," said Elisabetta Catto. "But I do not look at the cost because I prefer not to know the amount of the gasoline. But I know that it is very high, and for me it is an important cost."
One euro 20 a liter works out to more than $5.40 a gallon. With costs so high, the more kilometers to the tank-full, the better.
Parking is another reason small cars are an advantage. With space at a premium, it is easier to find a place to park. Even so, you see the cars lined up bumper to bumper on the street, and filling the medians on major roads. But Elisa Catto says parking is a big problem in Turin.
"There is no parking," she said. "It is very difficult. If you must go with a car because there is not a lot of public transportation, you know you probably not easily find a [parking] place."
Another major difference is the transmission. Looking down on traffic from the bus window, virtually every driver has a hand on the stick shift. I have not seen an automatic transmission yet.
It is a shame, because they would really come in handy since traffic signals are not synchronized. You stop at a red light, wait for the green, then go just a block or two before hitting another red light. No wonder our bus driver is mumbling to himself. I am just glad I am not the one driving.